Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Liberation Day, its date signifies June 19, 1865, when the Union Army entered Galveston, Texas and informed the enslaved people there that slavery had been abolished.
Juneteenth is a state holiday in Texas and is formally commemorated in 47 U.S. states. Historically, it has been celebrated on the third Saturday of June — a date which always falls in the teens — hence the name, Juneteenth. Activists nationwide are currently petitioning for federal recognition of the holiday each year on June 19th.
Juneteenth was born as a grass-roots celebration and quickly spread throughout the country as a day to honor, commemorate, and acknowledge the people, stories, and persistent effects of slavery in America. Present-day celebrations seek to illuminate the perseverance, progression, and resilience of Black communities and ongoing efforts toward racial equity and justice.
Why should you pause to honor Juneteenth? Because recognizing and celebrating employees’ racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds can be crucial to building psychological safety and enhancing employee engagement. Celebrating Juneteenth in the workplace is an excellent way to achieve that goal and will help you encourage cultural curiosity and historical awareness throughout your organization. Open dialogues about social inequities help develop effective and inclusive professional spaces and communities.
In fact, according to research, when companies downplay demographic differences, they actually increase underrepresented employees’ perception of bias from White colleagues. This is, in part, because it’s true… “the cognitive load of attempting to appear colorblind when we all, of course, do notice difference can ironically result in more biased behaviors from white employees, or lead them to avoid the intergroup collaborations that can spark innovation and enrich their work,” reports Harvard Business Review. The overall effect is diminished engagement, collaboration, innovation, and problem solving at work, which often lead to higher attrition and an adverse company culture.
In the spirit of inclusion, everyone in your organization should be encouraged to participate in Juneteenth programming. In other words, it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of your Black employees to organize their own recognition. Instead, you’ll find that it’s more meaningful and fun to have employees of every background participating in and learning about Juneteenth. In that same vein, it would be wise to avoid the assumption that a member of your professional community wants to be involved simply because of their ethnic background.
The guide below will provide you with ideas for impactful Juneteenth programming.
First, make sure that your Juneteenth programming is supplementary to your existing DEI efforts. If you are not already prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at your organization, Juneteenth programs may appear hollow or performative. Recognize Juneteenth on your organization’s social media and in your internal and external newsletters. This may look like sharing news about your organization’s Black or African American ERG (employee resource group) or releasing a statement about your commitment to equity. You might also highlight your supplier diversity, partnerships with Black-owned organizations, and employees who are making a difference in multicultural communities.
Also, we recommend creating special internal content and programming to share educational resources, events, and virtual experiences that help to educate your internal and external communities about the holiday. Communicate to your employee base that you encourage their attendance, participation, and curiosity. In 2021, Juneteenth is on a Saturday, so most employees will have the day off; but, if your organization is active on the weekends, demonstrate your commitment to celebrating Juneteenth by allowing employees to take paid time off or consider making the day a company-wide day of service.
While our society has systemic issues to address, remember that Juneteenth is about celebration and empowerment. Push for positive change by illuminating historical contributions, changemakers, and inspiring stories.
Learn more about the history of Juneteenth through reputable articles from PBS, New York Times, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Take a virtual tour of the Smithsonian Museum’s Slavery and Freedom exhibition, and consider participating in the free, live-streamed National Juneteenth Virtual Music Festival. Consider engaging an external speaker, or organizing a panel of experts to speak to employees about civil rights and other critical topics surrounding the Black American experience.
In addition to promoting Juneteenth events being offered within your local community, use experiential apps like TDM Connect to engage your team to learn in an ongoing and self-paced way. Be sure to consult curated lists of books, movies, podcasts and resources that may be helpful in challenging yourself to broaden your own perspective on Black history and experiences.
- Find recommended books here, via The Cut.
- Find recommended movies here, via Forbes.
- Find recommended podcasts here, via NPR.
- Find recommended books for children here, via Colors of Us.
Juneteenth should be more than just an annual blurb on your organization’s Facebook page. Instead, look for ways to connect with your local community and engage in corporate social responsibility to make a positive difference. Consider making a donation to a worthy organization, and/or volunteering with local nonprofits and charities to address ongoing needs in nearby communities of color. This list from NY Magazine offers 168 ways to donate in support of Black lives and communities of color.
Provide ongoing support to underrepresented communities all year long by committing to increase your supplier diversity. The Small Business Association’s Minority-Owned Business Directory is a great place to start, or you may consider hiring a dedicated DEI partner to help you develop a robust supplier diversity strategy. By intentionally directing your purchasing power in this way, you help to strengthen local Black economies, which in turn helps to shrink the racial wealth gap and foster job creation for people and communities of color.
Additionally, seek out ways to support community restoration and policy reform. Lending your support as an organization shows your commitment beyond checking a box. Often, you will see that your actions in the community will inspire increased engagement and a sense of belonging in the workplace. Explore Volunteer Match for vetted lists of local organizations that can help you make a sustained community impact.
Perhaps the best way to honor Juneteenth is by strengthening your allyship. Learn more about active inclusion, and work to build a truly inclusive workplace by seeking out and listening to the vast perspectives of all the people you are trying to include. In other words, reach out to Black leaders who are moving the needle in your organization and ask for their input on how they would like to be recognized, both on Juneteenth and beyond.
Use your privilege to benefit others, and keep in mind that intersectionality (the idea that every human has multiple, overlapping identities) is an integral part of understanding DEI. No community is a monolith, and a vast range of identities and experiences exists within the Black community.
Organizations that invest the time in celebrating diverse, multicultural holidays in ways that are thoughtful and intentional also send a clear message to their employees, clients, and customers that they care about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The relationships built and actions taken in observance of Juneteenth can create long-lasting benefits beyond the month of June.
At all turns, seek to promote inclusion and belonging while counteracting both conscious and unconscious bias. Leverage Juneteenth to build understanding and awareness about Black history, accomplishments, and culture, and focus on your organization’s sustainable impact. Juneteenth commemorates a pivotal and momentous moment in American history and should become an integral part of your annual organization-wide programming.